Friday June 8 saw Panama preparing for the playoffs that could see them qualify for the very first time for a major international football competition; Brazil 2014. Panama has never achieved a world ranking high enough to qualify in the CONCACAF group (Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football).
In this group the larger and more dominant national teams enjoy a higher ranking, such as Mexico, United States of America, Costa Rica and Honduras. Three teams from the CONCACAF area will have direct entry to the World Cup with the team finishing in fourth place having to face a playoff with the fifth placed finishers of the Conmebol area (South America).
Having won against Granada and Nicaragua, two teams previously unbeaten and in great form, Panama must now play against Canada, Honduras and Cuba to try and secure one of the two places in the final six. The final six will comprise of the six best teams in the CONCACAF area, the top three teams will enjoy automatic qualification to the 2014 World Cup with the fourth placed team facing a play-off match to qualify.
Panama up until a few years ago was purely a baseball country with some great boxing victories in its history, however, now it has warmed to football and reaching the World Cup has become a national obsession.
Social networks have been talking about football for several weeks now, but with the date approaching for the first game against Honduras (June 8) the comments and expectations were on the increase.
Even President Ricardo Martinelli got bit by the football bug. On his Twitter account (@rmartinelli) [es] he wrote a message to the Panama team to wish them luck, however he confused their opponents Honduras for Cuba:
Cuando juega la marea roja no hay opo ni gob todos somos Panameños y estamos con nuestra selección. Vamos a clasificar y ganarle a Cuba
Users created the trending hashtag #SiPanamaClasificaalMundial (“if Panama qualify for the World Cup”) [es] where Panamanian fans told of what they would do if Panama were to make history and qualify for Brazil 2014.
Ultimately it was a historic away win against Honduras beating them 2-0. The victory did not go unnoticed by social networks and created two global trending topics: Honduras 0 Panamá 2 [es] where Panama fans celebrated and Honduras fans commiserated. Also, the striker for the Panama team Blas Pérez [es], scorer of both the goals became a global trending topic.
And so begins the long road to World Cup qualification for Panama. On June 12 Panama will host Cuba in a game full of high expectations. All of the general sale tickets have sold out, as told by Alexander Da Silva (@Adasilva507) [es]:
Ya anunciaron que se agotaron todas las entradas en el sector sur para el #Panamá vs Cuba, sitio donde usualmente esta la Extrema Roja.
Certainly the hopes are high for Panama to qualify for the first time for a major football world championship and social networks will play an active part in the Panama team's journey.